The start of the fall 2011 television season is now only a few short weeks away, and the wealth of material we’re about to be presented with is nothing short of fantastic. Sons of Anarchy is apparently going to be at its most unforgiving if Kurt Sutter’s blog and (sadly defunct) Twitter feed is to be believed, Boardwalk Empire will have the chance to prove it deserves its spot in the HBO pantheon, Community and Parks and Recreation are coming off incredibly solid second and third seasons, we’ll get three bonus episodes of Archer to whet our appetites for a full season next year – my anticipation looms.
And with the new season starting, it seems like an appropriate time to evaluate where we stand with A Helpless Compiler and give some idea about the blog’s direction going forward. I started this blog in March with a few shows I liked and wanted to write about, and since then it’s expanded pleasantly (if very sporadic in its updates, a flaw I acknowledge). So, I’ve been spending the past couple of weeks brainstorming what direction to take the site in, in order to provide you with some better coverage and also keep me from losing my mind trying to keep up with everything.
The biggest step will be a push to make coverage more weekly – an ambition I had starting out that quickly got sidetracked. Rather than grouping a few episodes together in epic essays (as we saw with Justified and The Borgias), I’m going to try to do things on the weekly basis with recaps going up a day or two after they’ve aired. These reviews should also be shorter, which I’m sure will please those of you scanning for something to read on a lunch break and not settling in for expansive analysis.
At this time, I’m planning to cover Boardwalk Empire on a weekly basis once that show begins next month, and will offer thoughts on Thursday night comedies Community and Parks and Recreation. I’ll also be checking in heavily on some of the upcoming pilots as they air, and offer some semi-regular reporting on returning favorites or shows of interest. It’s sure to be fairly random as the season gets started, but once we’re advanced into it I hope to winnow out the dregs and keep to the programs where there’s actually something interesting to say.
Additionally, as the fall goes along and new shows flame out (as is almost certain to happen given the weak slate of pilots) we’re going to be introducing a few new recurring features to A Helpless Compiler. These are intended to fill some gaps in my television viewing history, offer you a bit more insight into my TV viewing habits, and also offer some articles that should be more fun than the regular coverage. These will hopefully be done on a monthly basis, or maybe just the occasional diversion off the beaten path. We’ve got three of these features, introduced as follows:
Adventures in Terrible Television:
Be honest, who amongst us doesn’t like on occasion watching television that we know is going to be terrible? Shows with over-the-top acting, ludicrous plot lines, overly cheap special effects, or just a general disregard for any of the people featured in it. Sometimes it’s just there to riff on, sometimes it’s just good background noise, and sometimes it’s there as a sterling example of what not to do.
So in what will probably qualify as a mixture of self-flagellation and dissection of a patient, our first feature is Adventures in Terrible Television. We’ll be selecting a show widely known for its badness, either critically or apocryphally, and seeing just how many episodes we can get through before caving in. Will it be a show that could have been saved with just a little modification, a show that gets everything wrong in just the right combinations that it’s actually wonderful, or a show that’s just atrocious in every way and the executives who green-lit it should be punched in the stomach? Consider this a sacrifice for the greater good to find out.
I’ve mentioned this in previous articles, but when I start out with a new show I’m willing to give it no more than four episodes to endear itself to me. This allows me to identify shows that have a weak pilot but have the foresight to get better as they go along, or shows that have an excellent pilot but lack the necessary support system to tell stories on a weekly basis. I’ll be putting several new shows to this test this fall, and I’m sure some will succeed and some will collapse.
But I don’t feel much like limiting myself to these current programs, especially considering everyone else is probably making the same judgments as I have, so we’re going to apply this test to some older series that I missed the first time around. I’ll watch four episodes of a particular show, comment on the establishing plot lines, the chemistry of its characters, whether or not it knows what kind of show it wants to be, and ultimately make a decision as to whether or not it’s a show I want to keep watching. Feel free to lambaste me in comments if you believe a particular choice “gets better later” and I’m an idiot for only giving it four episodes to “find itself.”
A Strangely Special Episode:
Every classic show has the episodes that stand head and shoulders above the rest: not just in its own library of episodes, but in television as a whole. You have your “Pine Barrens,” your “Modern Warfare,” your “The Suitcase” – the ones that shoot to the top of the list when you’re asked why the show is good, or the ones you can defend even if you don’t particularly like a show.
I could (and still may) spend some time talking about these episodes, but those have been talked to death in many a forum and I’d rather not repeat. Rather, our third feature will be the most personal one, in which I visit an episode of a show that might not be at the top of critical lists but for one reason or another is indelibly printed on my brain. Some might be episodes of recent shows that I like a lot more than most people did – or see something in that others didn’t – but many others will be episodes that had particular meaning to me in my younger non-critical years that I’m curious to revisit through the prism of current experiences. Expect a journey of Inception-level into my psyche, or just some really obscure discussion that interests me and no one else
So, that’s the direction we’re planning to take in months to come. As always, I welcome any suggestions on what you’d like to see in terms of shows covered in these features (or tweaks to said features) as the blog passes its six-month anniversary.